Zinc is what you would call a “micronutrient.” But just because it’s not a macronutrient like protein, fat, or carbohydrates doesn’t mean it’s not important.
Science shows that zinc can help support a healthy immune system, assist in the healing of wounds, and aid in DNA development.
“In one review, zinc lozenges were found to shorten the duration of the common cold by up to 40 percent,” says Charlotte Martin, M.S., R.D.N. (This is not to say you have to consume your zinc in lozenge form, but more on that soon enough.)
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“Zinc is also needed for our sense of taste and smell,” says Maggie Michalczyk, M.S., R.D.
How much do you need? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists daily zinc intake recommendation at 11 mg of zinc per day.
That’s totally doable if you’re eating a range of healthful foods. So doable that you definitely don’t need a supplement to do it.
Here are the best foods to eat to make sure you’re getting enough zinc in the day.
One cup of cooked lentils provides around 20 percent of your daily value (DV) for zinc. They’re also are a good source of fiber and plant-based protein, says Martin.
“Lentils can be used as substitute in a variety of your favorite meat dishes. Mix a can of brown lentils with your favorite marinara sauce and spices for an easy Bolognese,” she says.
Or swap for ground meat on Taco Tuesday. “You can also use cooked lentils as ‘taco meat’ and serve in tortillas with taco seasoning and your favorite taco toppings,” she says.
2. Hemp Seeds
A two-tablespoon serving of hulled hemp seeds delivers about 20 percent of your daily value for zinc. “I love adding them to my daily smoothie for a healthy fat, protein, and fiber boost. You can also use hemp seeds instead of nuts in a homemade pesto recipe if you’re allergic to nuts,” Martin says.
3. Dark Chocolate
Nice. One ounce of dark chocolate (that’s 70 to 85 percent cocoa solids) provides more than 8 percent of your daily value for zinc. “Generally, the darker the chocolate the greater the zinc content,” Martin says.
“I love to make a dark chocolate chia pudding using unsweetened cocoa powder, chia seeds, coconut milk, and dates (to sweeten). You could also make easy, healthy breakfast cookies using just oats, mashed banana, and a sprinkle of dark chocolate chips,” says Martin. Or just nosh on a square or two plain.
4. Pumpkin Seeds
Small but mighty, pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc with about 8 mg of zinc in a three-ounce serving. “They’re also a good source of plant-based protein and fiber, and easy to add to things like oatmeal, trail mix ,and on top of grain bowls,” says Michalczyk. Plus, they have a nice crispy, crunchy texture, so you can use as an alternative to croutons in soups or salads, or as a breading on meat or fish.
About 3 ounces of Cheddar contains about 28 percent of the DV of zinc. “Plus the zinc is very bioavailable meaning your body is readily absorbed by the body,” says Michalczyk. “Snack on cheese, or add it to salads or sandwiches for zinc, calcium, and some protein too,” she says. You can pair with crackers or a piece of fruit, too, like an apple.
Hard-boiled, scrambled, poached, or over easy—there are so many amazing ways to whip up a delicious egg dish that has a ton of protein and zinc. “There’s no wrong way to eat eggs and along with contain protein and other vitamins and minerals, 1 large egg contains around 5 percent of the DV of zinc,” says Michalzyk.
7. Pine Nuts
“Throw them on a salad, or toast them and add to roasted veggies for a nutty dose of nutrition. Pine nuts contain about 6.5 grams of zinc per 3-ounce serving,” says Michalczyk. You can also use them for a hearty pesto with some walnuts and spread on cheese, toast, or pasta.
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